The Moto G (2013) is Motorola’s best-selling smartphone to date despite its budget status and specs. How do you improve on the top selling device if you’re Motorola? It would appear, you keep the same outstanding $179.99 unlocked device pricing, same internal hardware and improve on the features people want: a bigger screen, better audio, better camera, and toss in a microSD card slot for storage expansion.
If history repeats itself, the new Moto G (2014) has the potential to become Motorola’s new best-selling smartphone.
While I am power user, I’m approaching this review with a budget-conscious point of view. The Moto G is not going to be a powerhouse that competes with high-end, premium smartphones like the Moto X (2014), Galaxy S5 or HTC One (M8).
The Moto G (2014), like last year’s model, is designed to be a “good-enough” smartphone; good enough for watching HD videos, fast enough to browse the web and use social media like Twitter and Facebook, and passable for taking decent photos.
In a nutshell: the Moto G (2014) is designed to do all of the basics, and do them well, but not at peak performance.
The Moto G (2014) has remained largely unchanged from the Moto G (2013) model. To borrow from another company, the device is still unapologetically plastic. It’s a little wider and taller and heavier, but that’s to expected since the screen size jumped up from 4.5-inch to a 5-inch one.
The curve on the back bulges out from 6-11mm depend from the bottom to the center. Like the Moto X (2014) and last year’s Moto X and G, the design feels a little unbalanced just looking at its profile, but once you hold the device in your hand, it all comes together.
On the devices top and bottom bezel now sit two speakers for stereo audio; the speaker on the Moto G (2013) was small and on the back. Sound is clearer because it’s not projecting towards your face, and is a welcome improvement.
The rear cover is interchangeable and pops right off by yanking from the Micro USB port. It’s a weird way to pry off the rear cover, and I always get scared I might end up breaking it or damaging the USB port doing so.
Once the cover’s off, you’ll have access to the micro SIM card slot and a microSD card slot. One the most-wanted features from customers who bought the original Moto G (2013) was a storage expansion slot, and now Motorola’s delivered. However, as I mentioned in my hands-on preview, you’ll only be able to add a 32GB microSD card in. So if you get the 8GB model, you can expand it to 40GB, and if you get the 16GB, you can expand that to 48GB.
In addition to storage expandability and stereo speakers, Motorola says its Moto G customers wanted a larger screen because bigger screens are all the rage now. It’s a sad reality, but it’s true. What seemed like oversized silliness is now the norm. For most Moto G owners, the device will be their main computing device, and as such, a large screen most definitely makes a difference.
The Moto G (2014)’s 5-inch IPS display can only be described as good. The display is 0.5-inches larger (diagonally) compared to the Moto G (2013) and has the exact same 1280 x 720 resolution, but the pixels aren’t packed as tight: 294 PPI versus 329 PPI on the 2013 model.
Photos and fonts look a tad worse on the Moto G (2014) with the pixel drop density drop, but color reproduction is still acceptable. But my guess is most people won’t even see the difference unless they really compare the two.
Performance (Same as last year)
The Moto G (2014) has the exact same internal guts as the Moto G (2013) model. It has the same 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 quad-core processor, Adreno 305 450Mhz GPU, and paltry 1GB of RAM. Motorola had an entire year, and it decided updating the internal specs wasn’t important enough this year.
I’m not sure how I feel about that. As a consumer, I’d be pissed off. A newer device should have better specs, not year-old ones.
Running the Geekbench 3 test which tests single and mult-core performance, the Moto G (2014) scored a 337 and 1110 on the scores. That’s in line with the original Moto G (2013) which scored a 333 on the single-core test and a 1116 on the multi-core test. It’s also still significantly less powerful than last year’s Moto X (2013).
GFXBench 3.0, a benchmark for the GPU was only able a score of 254 (4.1 fps) on the Manhattan test, but wasn’t able to complete the Manhattan Offscreen test because it had run out of memory. Instead, we ran the 3DMark benchmark, which tests for the GPU as well and got this:
As you can see, it lags well behind flagship devices with faster processors.
What exactly does that translate to in real life? I was able to 3D graphic-intensive games such as Asphalt 8: Airborne, Dead Trigger 2 and Injustice with a little lag. It’s not silky smooth as you’d get with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801-equipped smartphone, but the games are playable.
The Moto G (2014)’s battery remains the same 2070 mAh as the 2013 model, and that’s a minor problem since the larger screen sips a little more power than the old Moto G. The absence of 4G LTE does help combat battery drainage, but it would have been nice for Motorola to finally make the battery removable. Remember, the Moto G (2014) is aimed at shoppers on a tight budget and regions that aren’t as developed. This category usually doesn’t have the same access to recharging a smartphone as everyone else.
With medium to heavy usage, I was only able to squeeze on average 8 hours of battery life out of the Moto G (2014). On days I didn’t watch YouTube videos, listen to music, and didn’t fire up Instagram and Facebook too much, I was able to push that to 9.5 hours. The Moto G (2013) was an impressive little guy with some pretty darn good battery life (I know people who get 10-11 hours on moderate to light usage). The Moto G (2014) takes a step back in this department.
Motorola’s smartphones are not known for their stellar cameras. I would go as far to say they’re quite mediocre. The Moto G (2013) had an average camera, with our Editor Hubert Nguyen saying the 5-megapixel stills “aren’t very crisp” when viewed in larger sizes off the smartphone display.
The Moto G (2014)’s rear camera is now an 8-megapixel one and the front-facing camera is now a 2-megapixel one; they’re both better than before, for sure, but not outstanding by any means. There is noticeable shutter lag from the moment you tap on the screen to saving it into the camera roll, which is unforgivable in 2014.
Images are still average-looking, with most photos I took looking soft. The autofocus, despite the larger f/2.0 aperture for letting in more light, is also wonky and not cooperative a lot of the time. Your best bet is to switch to the manual control for focus and exposure. HDR is alright, but still leaves a lot of overexposed areas with little to no detail, but as always each shooting case will vary.
Low-light performance is okay in the right situation, but not impressive in any way. Details are visible, but not sharp at all when zoomed in even a little. I’d say the low-light performance is on par with an iPhone 4S, when held with a steady hand.
Overall, the Moto G (2014)’s camera is an average experience, because for most everybody, our smartphone camera is our main camera. It’s not about the megapixels, but the image quality, and Motorola went for more resolution instead of significantly better low-light and autofocus performance. That said, this is a budget device, and for the price, it’s about what I’d expect.
On the video recording front, the rear camera records footage at 720p resolution at 30 fps; nothing to boast about, again, but good-enough nonetheless.
Software (Pure Android is fast)
Like its bigger brother, the Moto G (2014) runs Android 4.4.4 KitKat without any unsightly “skins” to bog it down. This is pure Android. You get all of the usual Google Play services including Chrome, Gmail, Google Maps, YouTube, Google Now and more.
Even with last year’s internals, Android 4.4.4 runs pretty well. Swiping between homescreens is smooth, and launching apps is snappy. And since this is an unlocked device, there are no carrier bloatware apps (yay!) and it’s guaranteed to get Android L when that drops later this year.
Because of lower-specced hardware, the Moto G (2014) once again doesn’t have any of the special Motorola integrations that are on the Moto X. So, no Moto Voice, no Moto Display, and no Moto Actions. That’s a bummer because their additions would have definitely pushed the Moto G (2014) to its limits in terms of buying attractiveness. You do get a limited version of Motorola Assist, which acts as a digital assistant to know when you’re sleeping or in a meeting, but it’s nowhere near as versatile as having the other Motorola services bundled together.
The Moto G (2014) does, however, have one thing the Moto X (2014) doesn’t have: an FM radio. I know what you’re thinking: who still listens to FM radio? Believe it or not, a lot of people do, especially those in less affluent regions. You will however, need to use a pair of wired headphones (they act as an antenna) in order to use the FM radio. My U.S. AT&T review unit didn’t come with any in the box.
Conclusion (Can’t beat the price)
As a budget smartphone, the Moto G (2014) rules…again. The build-quality, 5-inch display and interchangeable covers combined with the ridiculously affordable $179.99 unlocked price is the perfect recipe for success. I expect the Moto G (2014) to sell like hotcakes in emerging regions such as Asia and Latin America, and places where 4G LTE networks aren’t prevalent.
The people who will buy the Moto G (2014) will be able to do plenty of basic smartphone activities on 4G HSPA+. They may not be able to do any serious 3D gaming without running into hardware bottlenecks, but email, web browsing, listening to music, watching HD videos, using social media and taking okay photos — all possible without any major hiccups.
Overall product rating: 8.5/10